Ioannina Old Jewish Cemetery
Jews first settled in Ioannina some time in the first centuries C.E. A sizable Romaniot community (dating from the Byzantine period) existed in the 14th century. Since the Sephardi Jews who arrived following the Spanish and Portuguese expulsions assimilated, the Jewish community remained the largest and oldest Romaniot community in Greece. In 1540, the Sephardi Jews formed their own congregation. In 1824, the Romaniot congregation built a new and magnificent synagogue, which remains intact today, and in 1841 the Sephardi Jews followed suit with an equally grand building. A Sicilian congregation maintained its own synagogue and traditions. The Jewish population in 1856 was 2,400. Two great fires broke out in 1867, leaving about 840 Jews homeless; some emigrated to Egypt, Eretz Israel, and the USA. From 1865, an Alliance Israelite committee focused on Jewish education and in 1904 (when the Jewish population peaked at 4,000) opened a Jewish school. Two Zionist associations were established in 1905 and 1909. After WWI, another wave of emigration took place, mostly to the USA, Turkey, France, and Eretz Israel. In 1928, the Ionnina Jewish community was the third largest Jewish community in Greece (1,970 Greek-speaking Jews), after Salonika and Kavala. In the 1930s, emigration continued. By this time a number of social welfare organizations had been founded, including an old age home. The greatest Jewish poet writing in Greek, Yosef Eliyia, lived in Ioannina during this period. The Jewish population in 1941 was 1,950. In WWII, many Jews in Ioannina fought against the Italians on the Albanian border. On 24th March 1944, the Germans rounded up all the Jews – some 1,870 – and deported them to Auschwitz-Birkenau via Trikala and Larissa. Only 164 survived the death camps. The community was revived after the war but remained small.
The exact period of the cemetery’s establishment is unknown, but it can be assumed that the cemetery of the Romaniot Jews emerged in the 14th century. The cemetery of the Sephardi Jews may have emerged in the 16th century.